Psalm 90:4
For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.
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(4) A thousand years.—This verse, which, when Peter II. was written (see New Testament Commentary), had already begun to receive an arithmetical treatment, and to be made the basis for Millennarian computations, merely contrasts the unchangeableness and eternity of the Divine existence and purpose with the vicissitudes incident to the brief life of man. To One who is from the infinite past to the infinite future, and Whose purpose runs through the ages, a thousand years are no more than a yesterday to man:

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death;”

or even as a part of the night passed in sleep:

“A thousand years, with Thee they are no more

Than yesterday, which, ere it is, is spent.

Or, as a watch by night, that course doth keep,

And goes and comes, unwares to them that sleep.”


The exact rendering of the words translated in the Authorised Version, “when it passeth,” is doubtful. The LXX. have, “which has passed;” and the Syriac supports this rendering. For the “night watches,” see Note, Psalm 63:6.

Psalm 90:4. For a thousand years — If we should now live so long, (as some of our progenitors nearly did,) in thy sight — In thy account, and therefore in truth; which is opposed to the partial and false judgment of men, who think time long because they do not understand eternity; or, in comparison of thy endless duration, are but as yesterday, when it is past — Which is emphatically added, because time seems long when it is to come, but when it is passed, and men look back upon it, it seems very short and contemptible. And as a watch in the night — Which lasted but three or four hours.

90:1-6 It is supposed that this psalm refers to the sentence passed on Israel in the wilderness, Nu 14. The favour and protection of God are the only sure rest and comfort of the soul in this evil world. Christ Jesus is the refuge and dwelling-place to which we may repair. We are dying creatures, all our comforts in the world are dying comforts, but God is an ever-living God, and believers find him so. When God, by sickness, or other afflictions, turns men to destruction, he thereby calls men to return unto him to repent of their sins, and live a new life. A thousand years are nothing to God's eternity: between a minute and a million of years there is some proportion; between time and eternity there is none. All the events of a thousand years, whether past or to come, are more present to the Eternal Mind, than what was done in the last hour is to us. And in the resurrection, the body and soul shall both return and be united again. Time passes unobserved by us, as with men asleep; and when it is past, it is as nothing. It is a short and quickly-passing life, as the waters of a flood. Man does but flourish as the grass, which, when the winter of old age comes, will wither; but he may be mown down by disease or disaster.For a thousand years in thy sight - Hebrew, "In thy eyes;" that is, It so appears to thee - or, a thousand years so seem to thee, however long they may appear to man. The utmost length to which the life of man has reached - in the case of Methuselah - was nearly a thousand years Genesis 5:27; and the idea here is, that the longest human life, even if it should be lengthened out to a thousand years, would be in the sight of God, or in comparison with his years, but as a single day.

Are but as yesterday when it is past - Margin, "he hath passed them." The translation in the text, however, best expresses the sense. The reference is to a single day, when we call it to remembrance. However long it may have appeared to us when it was passing, yet when it is gone, and we look back to it, it seems short. So the longest period of human existence appears to God.

And as a watch in the night - This refers to a portion of the night - the original idea having been derived from the practice of dividing the night into portions, during which a watch was placed in a camp. These watches were, of course, relieved at intervals, and the night came to be divided, in accordance with this arrangement, into parts corresponding with these changes. Among the ancient Hebrews there were only three night-watches; the first, mentioned in Lamentations 2:19; the middle, mentioned in Judges 7:19; and the third, mentioned in Exodus 14:24; 1 Samuel 11:11. In later times - the times referred to in the New Testament - there were four such watches, after the manner of the Romans, Mark 13:35. The idea here is not that such a watch in the night would seem to pass quickly, or that it would seem short when it was gone, but that a thousand years seemed to God not only short as a day when it was past, but even as the parts of a day, or the divisions of a night when it was gone.

4. Even were our days now a thousand years, as Adam's, our life would be but a moment in God's sight (2Pe 3:8).

a watch—or, third part of a night (compare Ex 14:24).

A thousand years, if we should now live so long, as some of our progenitors well nigh did. As he compared man’s duration with God’s in respect of its beginning, Psalm 90:2, so here he compareth them in respect of the end or continuance.

In thy sight; in thy account, and therefore in truth; which is opposed to the partial and false judgment of men, who think time long because they do not understand eternity; or in comparison of thy endless duration.

When it is past; which is emphatically added; because time seems long when it is to come, but when it is past, and men look backward upon it, it seems very short and contemptible, and men value one hour to come more than a thousand years which are past.

A watch, which lasted but for three or four hours; for the night was anciently divided into three or four watches. See Judges 7:19 Mark 6:48 13:35 Luke 12:38.

In the night; which also hath its weight; for the silence and slumbers of the night make time seem shorter than it doth in the day.

For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday,.... Which may be said to obviate the difficulty in man's return, or resurrection, from the dead, taken from the length of time in which some have continued in the grave; which vanishes, when it is observed, that in thy sight, esteem, and account of God, a thousand years are but as one day; and therefore, should a man lie in the grave six or seven thousand years, it would be but as so many days with God; wherefore, if the resurrection is not incredible, as it is not, length of time can be no objection to it. Just in the same manner is this phrase used by the Apostle Peter, and who is thought to refer to this passage, to remove an objection against the second coming of Christ, taken from the continuance of things as they had been from the beginning, and from the time of the promise of it: see 2 Peter 3:4, though the words aptly express the disproportion there is between the eternal God and mortal man; for, was he to live a thousand years, which no man ever did, yet this would be as yesterday with God, with whom eternity itself is but a day, Isaiah 43:13, man is but of yesterday, that has lived the longest; and were he to live a thousand years, and that twice told, it would be but "as yesterday when it is past"; though it may seem a long time to come, yet when it is gone it is as nothing, and can never be fetched back again:

and as a watch in the night; which was divided sometimes into three, and sometimes into four parts, and so consisted but of three or four hours; and which, being in the night, is spent in sleep; so that, when a man wakes, it is but as a moment with him; so short is human life, even the longest, in the account of God; See Gill on Matthew 14:25.

{e} For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.

(e) Though man thinks his life is long, which is indeed most short, yet though it were a thousand years, yet in God's sight it is as nothing, and as the watch that lasts only three hours.

4. The precise connexion of the thought is obscure. Some commentators connect Psalm 90:4 with Psalm 90:2, treating Psalm 90:3 as a parenthesis. ‘Thou art eternal, for lapse of time makes no difference to Thee.’ But it seems preferable to connect Psalm 90:4 directly with Psalm 90:3. ‘Thou sweepest away one generation after another, for the longest span of human life is but a day in Thy sight: though a man should outlive the years of Methuselah, it is as nothing in comparison with eternity.’

when it is past] Strictly, when it is on the point of passing away. A whole millennium to God, as He reviews it, is but as the past day when it draws towards its close,—a brief space with all its events still present and familiar to the mind. Cp. 2 Peter 3:8, where the converse truth is also affirmed; Sir 18:10.

and as a watch in the night] A climax. Said I like the past day? Nay, time no more exists for God than it does for the unconscious sleeper. The Israelites divided the night into three watches (Lamentations 2:19; Jdg 7:19; 1 Samuel 11:11). The division into four watches mentioned in the N.T. was of Roman origin.

How could the profound truth that time has no existence to the Divine mind be more simply and intelligibly expressed? To God there is no before and after; no past and future; all is present. To Him ‘was, and is, and will be, are but is.’ It is only the weakness of the finite creature that ‘shapes the shadow, Time.’

Verse 4. - For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday. Time has no relation to God; it does not exist for him. "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8) Therefore we must not judge his methods of working by our own. When it is past; rather, as it passes. And as a watch in the night. To the sleeper a night watch seems gone in a moment. Psalm 90:4The poet begins with the confession that the Lord has proved Himself to His own, in all periods of human history, as that which He was before the world was and will be for evermore. God is designedly appealed to by the name אדני, which frequently occurs in the mouth of Moses in the middle books of the Pentateuch, and also in the Song at the Sea, Exodus 15:17 and in Deuteronomy 3:24. He is so named here as the Lord ruling over human history with an exaltation ever the same. Human history runs on in דּר ודר, so that one period (περίοδος) with the men living contemporaneous with it goes and another comes; the expression is deuteronomic (Deuteronomy 32:7). Such a course of generations lies behind the poet; and in them all the Lord has been מעון to His church, out of the heart of which the poet discourses. This expression too is Deuteronomic (Deuteronomy 33:27). מעון signifies a habitation, dwelling-place (vid., on Psalm 26:8), more especially God's heavenly and earthly dwelling-place, then the dwelling-place which God Himself is to His saints, inasmuch as He takes up to Himself, conceals and protects, those who flee to Him from the wicked one and from evil, and turn in to Him (Psalm 71:3; Psalm 91:9). In order to express fuisti היית was indispensable; but just as fuisti comes from fuo, φύω, היה (הוה) signifies not a closed, shut up being, but a being that discloses itself, consequently it is fuisti in the sense of te exhibuisti. This historical self-manifestation of god is based upon the fact that He is אל, i.e., might absolutely, or the absolutely Mighty One; and He was this, as Psalm 90:2 says, even before the beginning of the history of the present world, and will be in the distant ages of the future as of the past. The foundation of this world's history is the creation. The combination ארץ ותבל shows that this is intended to be taken as the object. ותּחולל (with Metheg beside the e4 of the final syllable, which is deprived of its accent, vid., on Psalm 18:20) is the language of address (Rashi): that which is created is in a certain sense born from God (ילּד), and He brings it forth out of Himself; and this is here expressed by חולל (as in Deuteronomy 32:18, cf. Isaiah 51:2), creation being compared to travail which takes place amidst pains (Psychology, S. 114; tr. p. 137). If, after the example of the lxx and Targum, one reads as passive ותּחולל (Bttcher, Olshausen, Hitzig) from the Pulal חולל, Proverbs 8:24, - and this commends itself, since the pre-existence of God can be better dated back beyond facts than beyond the acts of God Himself, - then the conception remains essentially the same, since the Eternal and Absolute One is still to be thought of as מחולל. The fact that the mountains are mentioned first of all, harmonizes with Deuteronomy 33:15. The modus consecutivus is intended to say: before the mountains were brought forth and Thou wast in labour therewith.... The forming of the mountains consequently coincides with the creation of the earth, which is here as a body or mass called ארץ, and as a continent with the relief of mountains and lowlands is called תבל (cf. תבל ארץ, Proverbs 8:31; Job 37:12). To the double clause with טרם seq. praet. (cf. on the other hand seq. fut. Deuteronomy 31:21) is appended וּמעולם as a second definition of time: before the creation of the world, and from eternity to eternity. The Lord was God before the world was - that is the first assertion of Psalm 90:2; His divine existence reaches out of the unlimited past into the unlimited future - this is the second. אל is not vocative, which it sometimes, though rarely, is in the Psalms; it is a predicate, as e.g., in Deuteronomy 3:24.

This is also to be seen from Psalm 90:3, Psalm 90:4, when Psalm 90:3 now more definitely affirms the omnipotence of God, and Psalm 90:4 the supra-temporality of God or the omnipresence of God in time. The lxx misses the meaning when it brings over אל from Psalm 90:2, and reads אל־תּשׁב. The shorter future form תּשׁב for תּשׁיב stands poetically instead of the longer, as e.g., in Psalm 11:6; Psalm 26:9; cf. the same thing in the inf. constr. in Deuteronomy 26:12, and both instances together in Deuteronomy 32:8. The poet intentionally calls the generation that is dying away אנושׁ, which denotes man from the side of his frailty or perishableness; and the new generation בּני־אדם, with which is combined the idea of entrance upon life. It is clear that השׁיב עד־דּכּא is intended to be understood according to Genesis 3:19; but it is a question whether דּכּא is conceived of as an adjective (with mutable aa), as in Psalm 34:19, Isaiah 57:15 : Thou puttest men back into the condition of crushed ones (cf. on the construction Numbers 24:24), or whether as a neutral feminine from דּך ( equals דּכּה): Thou changest them into that which is crushed equals dust, or whether as an abstract substantive like דּכּה, or according to another reading (cf. Psalm 127:2) דּכּא, in Deuteronomy 23:2 : to crushing. This last is the simplest way of taking it, but it comes to one and the same thing with the second, since דּכּא signifies crushing in the neuter sense. A fut. consec. follows. The fact that God causes one generation to die off has as its consequence that He calls another into being (cf. the Arabic epithet of God el-mu‛ı̂d equals המשׁיב, the Resuscitator). Hofmann and Hitzig take תּשׁב as imperfect on account of the following ותּאמר: Thou didst decree mortality for men; but the fut. consec. frequently only expresses the sequence of the thoughts or the connection of the matter, e.g., after a future that refers to that which is constantly taking place, Job 14:10. God causes men to die without letting them die out; for - so it continues in Psalm 90:4 - a thousand years is to Him a very short period, not to be at all taken into account. What now is the connection between that which confirms and that which is confirmed here? It is not so much Psalm 90:3 that is confirmed as Psalm 90:2, to which the former serves for explanation, viz., this, that God as the Almighty (אל), in the midst of this change of generations, which is His work, remains Himself eternally the same. This ever the same, absolute existence has its ground herein, that time, although God fills it up with His working, is no limitation to Him. A thousand years, which would make any man who might live through them weary of life, are to Him like a vanishing point. The proposition, as 2 Peter 3:8 shows, is also true when reversed: "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years." He is however exalted above all time, inasmuch as the longest period appears to Him very short, and in the shortest period the greatest work can be executed by Him. The standpoint of the first comparison, "as yesterday," is taken towards the end of the thousand of years. A whole millennium appears to God, when He glances over it, just as the yesterday does to us when (כּי) it is passing by (יעבר), and we, standing on the border of the opening day, look back upon the day that is gone. The second comparison is an advance upon the first, and an advance also in form, from the fact that the Caph similitudinis is wanting: a thousand years are to God a watch in the night. אשׁמוּרה is a night-watch, of which the Israelites reckoned three, viz., the first, the middle, and the morning watch (vid., Winer's Realwrterbuch s. v. Nachtwache). It is certainly not without design that the poet says אשׁמוּרה בלּילה instead of אשׁמרת הלּילה. The night-time is the time for sleep; a watch in the night is one that is slept away, or at any rate passed in a sort of half-sleep. A day that is past, as we stand on the end of it, still produces upon us the impression of a course of time by reason of the events which we can recall; but a night passed in sleep, and now even a fragment of the night, is devoid of all trace to us, and is therefore as it were timeless. Thus is it to God with a thousand years: they do not last long to Him; they do not affect Him; at the close of them, as at the beginning, He is the Absolute One (אל). Time is as nothing to Him, the Eternal One. The changes of time are to Him no barrier restraining the realization of His counsel - a truth which has a terrible and a consolatory side. The poet dwells upon the fear which it produces.

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